Froma Bird's Eye View

Commentary by Raven West

Why Does So Much of Today’s Popular Fiction Have Crappy Endings?

As a writer, it’s very difficult to rationalize the popularity of today’s fiction. What is worse is when one spends time and money buying “into” these popular works only to be totally frustrated with the many plot errors and, ultimately thinking of alternatives to how the author could have, or should have, written a more satisfying ending.

Several decades ago I had my first such experience with Ann Rice’s “The Witching Hour”.  Rice had written what had been, for nearly all of the 976 pages, a strong, independent female character who had the intelligence and fortitude, I thought, to break her family’s curse. Much to my horror (it was a horror novel, afterall), she, instead took this character and turned her into a helpless victim.  At that point, I did something I’ve never done – I wrote Ms. Rice a letter telling her my disappointment and anger about the way she wrote the ending.

To her credit, she responded, in three pages, defending her decision and tried to explain her rational for what she had done to this character, but it did little to appease me. As I’d expected, she subsequently wrote a sequel, which was much worse that I could have imagined and I stopped reading her novels.

I was next “suckered” into reading another “best seller – turned movie”, “The Help”. 464 pages of so many missed opportunities to have any of the main characters, especially the journalist,  make some kind of difference during those turbulent times. But absolutely nothing happened. For a work of fiction, (author) could have written a powerful piece of civil rights that was based on facts, but she didn’t.

My reaction? So what?

“The Life of Pi”, another best-seller – to movie story about…. nothing. What a huge difference the ending would have made if, when Pi questioned the journalist which story he believed, the journalist had taken the food can from his briefcase that Pi had written the rescue note and handed it to him. Or that the tiger ended up in another zoo, or that the company that owned the tanker paid Pi a huge settlement so that he could build another zoo… or SOMETHING that connected all of the previous story plots to the ending.

“I was raised in India. My dad owed a zoo. He decided to move. The tanker sang, killing my entire family. I survived with a tiger. Tiger left. I got rescued. I married my childhood sweetheart. We had a couple of kids. The end.

I remember great novels that had deep characters and satisfying endings. Writers like Harold Robbins, Ayn Rand, J.D. Salinger to name just a few, knew how to connect the dots. They knew how to write great fiction with characters that had depth and personality with plots that not only drew the reader in, but kept them enthralled page after many, many, page.  And hen the reader finished the book, they wanted to start over again from page one.

There are, I’m sure, many novels on the best-seller list that are not mindless, meaningless garbage, but I’ve not seen any. If  these types of novels are what is considered popular  in today’s vampire/zombie/teenage angst world, I’m not very hopeful I’m going to find one, either.

So,  as writer, I’m just going to have to write one!

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2 Comments

  1. Raven, actually, I’d like to make a note of an example of what I strongly felt was the opposite in one case: the final book of Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series (with the book actually written by Brandon Sandersen after Robert’s passing).

    All too often, after 500 pages or so of buildup, the “final battle” takes place and is over in about three, six, or at most, twelve pages.

    I was looking forward, sadly, to seeing the same thing happen with my favorite 4,000,000 word fantasy series after 20 years of buildup — a few pages of a flashy mystical sword battle or somesuch. But I was AMAZINGLY surprised to find the exact opposite: a final conflict taking place on multiple fronts and on multiple levels that stretched out over 500 pages or so! And topped off by an interesting and thoughtful closure!

    Soooo… not ALL fiction has crappy endings nowadays!

    🙂
    MJM

    Like

  2. Hi Michael –

    I never meant to imply that ALL fiction has crappy endings, just the popular best-sellers – turned movies that I mentioned.

    I also believe that sci-fi/fantasy authors have a much broader interpretation of their work and perhaps that leads them to a more satisfying ending. The Harry Potter series is a good example, although I’ve never read one.

    It just seems to me these “popular” works of fiction that make the author mega-bucks shouldn’t leave the reader, (me) feeling robbed of the investment in time spent reading 500 pages or more only to be left with nothing more than what amounts to “so what?”

    Or, “I could have written that ending so much better”!!

    Thanks for your comment!

    Like

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